Released on 22nd September, Enter Shikari‘s The Spark is the UK band’s follow up to The Mindsweep. I’m entering my review of The Spark as a new listener to the creations of Rou Reynolds, Chris Batten, Rory Clewlow and Rob Rolfe, with the (addictive) “Live Outside” being my refreshing, interesting and curious first taste of the band.
The album begins with its title track and I’m curious by way of ‘spark’ and the meaning behind it, appreciating just how many uses and intentions could be behind it. Parking that thought and just listening, “The Spark” is already moving in its hopefulness within seconds. It feels like something fresh is on its way and all we have to do is say ‘yes’. This first track is optimism embodied, despite being wordless and only 50 seconds long. [The fact that this track is flagged on Spotify as ‘explicit’ is amusing.]
“The Sights” reinforces that vibe, geeing us up for something incredible coming: ‘The lift-off’. We’re being led by someone who knows what’s coming and knows we’ll be stunned and amazed. We’re handed metaphors that remind us that beyond material trappings, there’s beauty available to us all. The quick and light pace and quirky melodies and ‘oh oh oh oh’ vocals make this feel like a fun adventure that we’re part of.
“Well this life is whole”
There’s something about this space adventure that feels emotionally moving. It’s unclear to me what’s tugging at my heartstrings, whether it’s the openness and askingness of the vocals, almost desperate for us to be along with them for the ride, or the contagious feeling of nervously embracing something new and scary.
Rou Reynolds’ voice is beyond real, even in what could be raw theatricism, this is all him. Especially in the bridge, where he admits his feeling of inadequacy for the adventure ahead but that wants to move forward anyway. This makes for an incredibly satisfying final chorus affirming a desire in saying ‘yes’ to something new.
I never expected this, having thrashed “Live Outside” on repeat for days when it was released as a single, but “Live Outside” heard next as part of the thread joining it to the album is also surprisingly moving. This is a ‘silly’ song, right? So why’s it making me cry?
In the context of the album thread, “Live Outside” is heard with new ears and seems like the back story to the desperate escapism. The pull to adventure into something new is because of the crushing existence, without control, and living under bombardment.
“I keep taming, keep training, keep taming the horse
But it’s wild, it’s feral, and it’s running its course”
“Live Outside” feels like post-effort frustration, when acceptance hits of recognising all the energy that’s been sunk into keeping cool, keeping sane, keeping calm. The repetitiveness could be seen like a mantra of moving on, as an antidote to staying in the fight.
The frustration leaks out at the bridge (“No, they don’t even know about us”), and I’m curious what Rou/Enter Shikari are referring to. Do they mean they’ve lost themselves in this mental noise? Do they mean that what they’re under attack from isn’t personal to them only? It doesn’t matter when you hear the build up and escalation into the strength of the final chorus, with a really satisfying bass line and layered vocals. It’s an anthem of breaking free of the noise. Is that only possible up with the stars?
“Take My Country Back” is a side-stepping away from escaping to the stars (and away from overwhelm and anxiousness), but it’s actually not stepping too far away. The track seems to take a look at society and the political climate and asks us to make something new for ourselves, outside of what is being created for us (to truly ‘live outside of all of this’). The concept is really not that far away from the puppetry/assimilation that the characters conform to in the “Live Outside” video; in how we take what we’re fed and swallowing it, instead of rising up and creating something better for future benefit.
While obviously specific to Enter Shikari’s native UK, the same sentiment (sadly) works whether in the US or here in Australia. With their own agenda, we’re painted pictures of which so-called villains to direct our hatred toward, instead of those in power inspiring unity and progression for the benefit and happiness of their citizens.
“”Everyone is seeing red”
Laugh the pyromaniacs in the stronghold
Sparking fury against one’s neighbor
Twisting the truth with a blamethrower”
The repeated focus on ‘my country’ in the chorus sparks (Ha! Not intended, by me at least) the idea that we can be patriotic without detriment. This seems to get lost by these stances of ‘reclaiming’ what’s great, forgetting that greatness can be found in change too.
The rich track blends gritty frustrated intensity with swirling melodies, massive choruses and a nausea inducing yet reality-accepting bridge.
With “Airfield” following, Enter Shikari are back again with inspiring tears. With simple piano and vocals at first, it captures that state of struggle and feeling like you’re getting nowhere, and maybe that you’ll never get anywhere, ever. There’d be few who could not relate.
“Airfield” feels like a hand-holding, while not sugar coating, companion who has also been through shit and lived to tell the tale. They are just being there, fiercely ensuring that hope is never lost.
“Stop, disown fear
And I’ll be here
If you need a friend, my dear”
The escalating vocal intensity and the guitars and drums joining in speaks volumes. This section of “Airfield” seems to ask us to fight for understanding that we are never done, even if we feel broken and destroyed (raw guitars and crashing drums and distortion echoing this). “Don’t give up the fight”
Honestly, to follow “Airfield” up with “Rabble Rouser” brings to me a flood of joy, because the song lyrically seems to share the experience of live music, as well as the sense of community that live music brings, and the fact that Enter Shikari just used a song on the album to inspire people to not give up. Seriously, I can’t be the only one tearing up all over this album?
“Rabble Rouser” seems to comment on ‘stock’ musicians in contrast to the raw and writhing hecticness of an Enter Shikari show. In this way, it’s a loving nod to their fans who bring their messy and real ALL to their shows.
“What’s your medium?
The lunatics took over the asylum
“Rabble Rouser” captures heady anticipation of rocking out with the Enter Shikari fandom. This holds even in the instrumental bridge, awaiting for us each to “Fuck ego, minimise the self / Maximise the bond, the clique”. It’s a definite hype generating machine toward catching the band live.
Barely half a minute into the following track “Shinrin-yoku” and I can feel myself falling into relaxation. While the trumpet combined with the beat and melody isn’t quite what I would have expected, it’s somehow soothing to just follow along and see where this is going. While it feels a little hard to focus, as there’s so much going on, I wondered if they went with this sound to reflect the incomprehensible, mind-blowing realisation of how tiny we are.
The lyric “We are the dust on the stained glass windows / Trying to comprehend the cathedral” reminds me of those documentaries where people describe looking back down to Earth from space. They see this blue and green ball we’re existing upon, and realising how tiny they truly are, and how tiny their human problems are in the bigness of life, but even beyond that, knowing that Earth is a tiny speck in a galaxy, and that there are likely more than 100 billion galaxies. I’m no astronomer, but the idea of soaking up what is true by way of our existence, as also referred to in “The Sights” and the ‘billion stars in the sky’, is something that’s potentially soothing when we feel bogged down or afflicted by stress or drama.
The next track “Undercover Agents” flows the same theme of ‘what’s real here?’ through it. On a personal level, it acknowledges how we’re doing a stellar job at creating masks and veneers and working hard to establish a ‘mist’ between our truth and what others get to experience. Instagram anyone? The ‘what’s real here?’ sentiment is chunked down in “Undercover Agents” and it feels like a call to arms, for anyone that understands, to get as real as possible as a collective, thus sparking a revolution.
And despite also loving “Undercover Agents” at its release as a single, now that I hear this track as part of the thread of the album, with the context of looking beyond yourself and out into the reality of our existence, I am struck with the meaning of lyrics such as:
“Tonight I’m howling with the wolves
Yeah, I’m howling, can you hear us now?
I was seeking another life
And the moon was so bright”
It’s not a vacant rah-rah empowerment statement to ‘howl with the wolves’, it’s a reminder to get back to primal realities, the true things that exist and also recognise the bigness of the world we live in – in order to break into a completely new view of existence. The moon is part of reality. Carefully crafting a persona on Instagram is not.
Much like “The Sights”, “Undercover Agents” is an encouragement for us to break free of these containments, with excitement created sonically, and tender connection requested with vocal honesty. It’s a quest (like “Rabble Rouser”) to drop the ego and see what’s underneath it, for the purpose of connection and truth (“I don’t want the gloss I want to see the truth / I want to see your body”). Again, I’m moved.
I was not entirely sure what to make of “The Revolt Of The Atoms”. It’s a twanging, electronic, wavering, and paranoid doomsday number. The ever creative Enter Shikari have focused their attention on the idea of atoms turning against them; their microscopic selves getting fed up with our human uselessness and realising their power to completely destroy us all. It’s quirky as anything and its brash melodies and bouncing choruses somehow make the end of humanity sound entertaining. By way of sound, it only seems to truly fit its dark/creepy doomsday message from the bridge onward, with an escalation into layered noise, then distortion and corruption, before the predicted destruction is played out.
“An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces” reminds me of that feeling of life attacking you. You know when you pointlessly scream to the sky, like “WHAT NEXT!?”. The track feels so heavy emotionally to me, laying down in surrender, giving up the fight.
“I miss them like the majority of modern mainstream music misses an original metaphor for missing someone”
But at the instrumental section with its fanfare, screams, building layers of sound, and orchestral elements, hope might just be resuscitated?
When it fades and it is just us, strings, Rou and guitar, we are let in vulnerably. Honestly and with disclaimers of potential future backtracking, he shares a situation where key parts are gone, most heart-breakingly described as “I’ve lost more pieces of my jigsaw / It don’t seem worth making now”. How beautifully does that capture the ache of absence and not knowing what life looks like without the missing people. “We all cope somehow” is leaned on furiously and desperately, like a life raft is to someone sinking. It’s so powerful and honest.
The final track “The Embers” takes us full circle from where a spark began an adventure. Instrumental like “The Spark”, we’re again tapping into that possibility that breaks through the murkiness and comes to light. After “An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces” it’s like saying “okay we made it”. The cycle nature of this journey also feels very much like life.
The connection between closing and opening tracks establishes a beautiful link, seeming to make a statement of survival. In the dying of a fire, all it takes is a spark in the embers to bring it back to life. Throughout The Spark in its messages of looking toward truth, the bigness of reality, looking forward, never letting go of hope, it feels like we are invited to use these tracks for ourselves with our own struggles, and to join in with holding even just the idea that we’ll cope, and not to give up. Enter Shikari have brought their honesty, but also their creative enthusiasm to The Spark and the result is something special and emotionally moving; a heartfelt and real album. There is a lot of love here.
Moving, genuine, playfully creative and powerfully real.